The South Cariboo region is part of the Pacific Flyaway, making it a bird watching paradise! There are over 230 species of birds that make their way to the region, some only stopping over on their way north, while others nesting here until they return south. By mid April, the forest awakens with a harmony of sounds and flutter. Ruth Lake Lodge Resort provides many of the key features sought out by migratory birds: safe nesting on forest floors, on tree tops, nooks and crannies in trees, lots of buildings with rafters, abundant tall grasses in the wetland and no shortage of food.
In no particular order, here’s our top 12 favourite birds you’re ‘almost’ guaranteed to see, and a few extra that are a treat to encounter if you venture into the forest or on the lake.
1) Bald Eagle
Whether you’re sitting at the beach or the back deck of your cottage, you will surely see a bald eagle fly by. The best way to have a closer encounter with this majestic raptor is to set out on the water in one of the resort canoes. At numerous spots along the shoreline, bald eagles have built large nests in the treetops. Every year, mated couples will guard the nest, taking turns to go hunting for food for their young.
Another member of the raptor family, osprey are amazing to watch when they’re fishing for shallow swimmers. Did you know that osprey have hook-like scales on the soles of the feet to make it easier to hold on to slippery fish? You know you’re watching an osprey if they dive into Ruth Lake feet first. They like to build their large, bulky stick nests atop dead trees and utility poles. If you spot one overhead, follow its flight path back to the nest. With binoculars, you might see some little heads peeking up for a feeding.
3) Belted Kingfisher
Since you’re already out on the water, you’re quite likely to see a belted kingfisher near the shoreline. They like to hunt in unclouded water which is why Ruth Lake is quite popular for these blue/grey fishers. They’ll dive in headfirst, often a wonder they don’t break their neck! At dusk, they’ll perch on the branches that overhang the lake, making it easy for them to see the fish swimming by. Kingfishers excavate burrows on hillsides, preferring to find spots that don’t have too many tree roots. Belted Kingfishers are solitary until it’s time to mate. Females can lay 5 to 8 eggs, which will incubate for about 23 days. Then the hatchlings will spend another 28 days in the safety of the nest before venturing out on their own.
4) Common Loon
A definite favourite of all who live or visit lakes in the summer, the haunting call of the loon will stay with you long after you leave. For those of us who live lakeside, it’s the sure sign of spring. Loons are a large waterbird only coming to shore to mate and incubate the eggs. They look awkward on land as their legs are set back on the body, although this makes them incredible swimmers. They dive underwater to eat, and with solid bones, can reach depths of 250 feet. They have a bladder they can inflate to float higher while preening their feathers. They land on the lake like a floatplane and need open water to safely take flight. Loon chicks face many predators, including bald eagles, so often loon families call to each other in the evening, staying close to protect the young. Loons are curious and will often allow you to get close to them if you’re in one of the resort canoes, kayaks or SUPs. They don’t care much for the noisy motor boats, often calling out or deep diving if a motor boat gets too close. Always give them plenty of space and let them choose to come closer.
5) American Robin
A familiar bird to many, robins love to spend summers in the South Cariboo. We have numerous nests all around the Resort offering up great opportunities to peek in and see those beautiful blue eggs. A female robin typically lays 3 to 4 eggs and depending on the weather can have as many as 4 clutches per season! That’s a lot of new robins coming into the world every year! After a rain fall or in the early mornings, many robins will be busy plucking worms and grubs from the grassy areas. Ravens are a threat to the young, so robins try to tuck their nests in protected areas where other birds can not attack from above. When it’s time to leave the nest, the chicks get encouraged by other adult robins ‘cheering’ them on. Once all the babies are safely on the ground, they’ll be shuffled along into a nearby bush until they develop their flight skills. This only takes a few days and they are good to go.
6) Cedar & Bohemian Waxwing
This crested bird typically arrives when the Saskatoon berries are just starting to ripen. We’ll have dozens of waxwings in the berry bushes for as long as there is food. They are also good flycatchers so they play an important role in mosquito reduction. We really like them! They have a distinct high sreeee! call and a very attractive colourful plumage, with a distinctive Zorro mask around the eyes.
7) Pileated Woodpecker (and his little cousin the Downy)
Woodpeckers are common in the South Cariboo region as there are plenty of tree bugs to feast on. The pileated woodpecker is the region’s largest, comparable to a crow in size. The bright red crest is unmistakable. If you see a tree with lots of deep holes, chances are one of the many woodpeckers in the region has worked at digging out beetles and ants. From the same family the downy can also be spotted, and it is the smallest woodpecker in the region. Predominantly black and white and only the male downy has a small red bar on its nape. Want to spot a woodpecker? Follow your ears! They’re a noisy bunch.
There are too many species of sparrow to name, but a favourite is the chipping sparrow. As a juvenile, it’s difficult to distinguish from other sparrows, but as it matures, it’s grey belly and streaked brown back make it easier to identify. It has a unique black eye line and white eyebrow and a rufous (rusty coloured) crown. Such a beauty!
9) Evening Grosbeak
From the finch family, this stocky short tailed bird has a massive head with a pale greenish bill, black wings with a large white patch and a black tail. The male has a stunning yellow eyebrow. You might spot them in trees, but they like to forage for seeds, buds, insects, and fruit so remember to look down to catch a glimpse of this special bird.
Like the sparrows, there are many species of warbler that call the Cariboo their summer home. From 12cm to 14cm in size, these little birds fill the forest. Some varieties use the area as an early spring stopover to refuel on insects and berries as they continue north and then stop again on the southern migration in early fall. Others spend the entire summer here.
11) Sandhill Crane
You won’t believe your eyes, and ears! The sandhill crane arrives in early April around Ruth Lake. With their preferred breeding ground in Anchorage Alaska, many use the Cariboo as a short stopover along the way, but others will spend the summer here. You will often hear their trumpeting call long before seeing them, but either way, you’ll know it’s a sandhill crane. These very tall birds (117cm – nearly 4 ft) have a grey body and crimson head and a wingspan of over 6 feet (196cm) They like the tall grassy marsh and pasture land. As an omnivore they forage the wetland, grassland and crop fields for plants, invertebrates and they’ll also eat mice and voles! They are very shy and will quickly disappear in the tall grass. If you see one, you must remain still and quiet to enjoy their presence. The smaller great blue heron can sometimes be spotted along the shoreline.
Last but not least, the hummingbird featured on our logo and the bird we keep near and dear to our hearts. The most common in the region is the rufous hummingbird, with a black tail and bright rusty-orange underparts. The female has stunning iridescent green patches from head to tail. They nest in the trees near the cottages and will surely make an appearance at some point during your visit. We have feeders just outside the office, so you can watch them as you walk by. Also in the region is Anna’s hummingbird with its bright rose-red crown. Only once (so far) have I seen a Calliope, the smallest hummingbird in the region with its greenish head and magenta rays on the throat. Wow!
With so many species of birds, if bird watching and bird photography is something you enjoy, you’ll never run out of things to do at Ruth Lake Lodge Resort. Remember to pack your binoculars and your telephoto lens. Ducks, Owls, Wilson’s Snipe, Ruby Crown Kinglet, Western Tanager, Merlin, Chickadee, Grouse, Grey Jay, Canada Goose, Raven, Nuthatch, Peewee, Northern Flicker, Hermit Thrush have all been spotted here on the Resort or on Ruth Lake. The list goes on, but you’ll need to see for yourself. You can pick up a checklist at the office to keep track of the birds you see and we’ll continue adding your sightings to our growing library of birds spotted at Ruth Lake Lodge Resort.
Reference material: Birds of Interior BC and the Rockies by Richard Cannings; Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America by Roger Tory Peterson; https://www.allaboutbirds.org/; https://ebird.org/canada/home